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You Are Sisters and You Love Each Other (Damn it!)

When I was a little kid, my brother and I fought often. I don’t remember all of what we fought about, probably silly things like sitting in the front seat or whose turn it was to do whatever. I remember distinctly screaming from the backseat, “He’s touching me! He’s looking at me!” Together, we were an annoyance to any adult tasked to watch us together. As a result, after school, we were typically separated. After school, Eddie went to my grandmother’s and I went to Tia Olga’s.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my brother. Today, he is one of my closest friends and confidantes. But as kids, we annoyed each other and others constantly with senseless bickering.

During our last trip to Costco, “You are sisters and you love each other” (damn it) became my mantra. I love how Costco has carts that are wide enough to hold two children; however, now that Maggie is nearly 4 and Hazel is 2, they both may fit but it’s a tight squeeze. Both kids were guilty of antagonizing the other. Maggie would push or try to smack Hazel and Hazel would respond in turn. With every incident, I would repeat my mantra: “You are sisters and you love each other!” while punctuating the thought in my mind with the word “damn it.” (Hazel is a parrot and would probably leave chanting Costco “damn it!” if I were to verbalize that final phrase). We walked the aisles, repeating the mantra as needed to the chuckles of fellow shoppers.

“Why?” Hazel asked after I pulled her hands away from trying to poke Maggie’s arm and thigh.

“We are family and we love each other. Blood is thicker than any disagreement. In the meanwhile, keep your hands to yourself and respect your sister’s space, please.”

I recognize that the nonsensical squabbling will likely continue for the next several years. This isn’t because Maggie has special needs or because Hazel is especially annoying. If anything, this is probably the most ordinary problem we work through regularly in our home. Siblings argue and that’s normal.

What I see here is an opportunity to teach my children the basics of conflict resolution. You both want to play with this toy? Okay, Maggie, you get the first two minutes (or five minutes or whatever length of time makes sense), then Hazel, you get your turn. I flip flop who gets it first so sometimes it’s Hazel and sometimes, it’s Maggie. Since my children don’t understand time (or numbers) yet, I use a visual timer. When the blue goes away, it’s time to trade.

A lesson for Hazel is learning how to respect personal space and boundaries. She is an affectionate little girl and she will often want to kiss or hug Maggie, who often will respond by pushing her sister away. I explain to Hazel that Maggie wants her space and to not touch her if she doesn’t want to be touched. Maggie doesn’t have the words so her response will be to physically push Hazel away. Sometimes, Hazel will get fixated on some random thing, like chanting the word “feet” and running to every person to tag their feet. Hazel is building her vocabulary will often chant a word while showing she physically knows what it is. If she tries to use Maggie, Maggie doesn’t appreciate this attention and will often make this known by her behavior.

Maggie, on the other hand, is more complex. She’s nonverbal and figuring out what she wants and requires more elaborate guessing based on subtle cues. Sometimes in her frustration, she will try to take it out on Hazel. She has pulled Hazel’s hair and shown other aggressive behaviors. This happens less frequently since we began behavior therapy and our discipline strategy is a time out followed by comforting Hazel.

Yet there are these beautiful moments of sisterly affection that show me that their relationship will blossom over time. Whether it’s spontaneous hand holding or when they’ve both crawled into our bed in the middle of the night and we wake up to them spooning one another in their sleep, I treasure those moments in my heart.


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